The Huntington Library of San Marino, Calif., ended a 39-year scholarly scandal and struck a blow for freedom of information by making the Dead Sea Scrolls available, on microfilm through other libraries, to all scholars who ask. About time.
The monopoly stewardship by a handful of editors -- as though they own copyright on stuff written 2,000 years ago -- is broken. The Huntington Library, a respected research institute, may have acted from a legal gray area, based on the disputed right of the donor to give it negatives without restrictions. The "trust" the library broke was not one it undertook. Its action sprang from a grasp of right and wrong in scholarship and ethics.
Dead Sea Scrolls is the name given to some 800 pieces of parchment and papyrus in Hebrew and Aramaic dating from 200 B.C. to 50 A.D., found in five sites of the West Bank of the Dead Sea, between 1947 and 1956, that wound up in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem. Then under Jordanian authority, the scrolls were given to a regime of seven eminent Western, Christian, biblical scholars in 1952. A slow process of publication and translation began. After Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, this regime remained intact with one Israeli scholar added and Israel's Antiquities Authority holding the umbrella.